Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Ten Plagues, the Annunciation, but what do You believe?

For my 56th birthday, I received a beautiful, leather-bound NIV study bible. After reading it here and there, checking the commentaries and notes, and finding them reasonably reliable, I settled down with a serious study of the book of Exodus/Shemoth. This book has always represented for me the beginning of my life in Christ. After youthful years of wandering, I was brought back to the Living God by reading this passage in the Jerusalem Bible:
Then Moses said to God, “I am to go, then, to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ But if they ask me what his name is, what am I to tell them?” And God said to Moses, “I Am who I Am. This,” he added, “is what you must say to the sons of Israel: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” And God also said to Moses, “You are to say to the sons of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name for all time; by this name I shall be invoked for all generations to come.Exodus 3:13-15 JB

So, spiritually then, I had to become first a Jew, before I could fully return to Jesus the Jewish Messiah. Meeting Him first in YHWH, Yod-hey-vav-hey, Yahweh, Him who Is, the Living God of my fathers, it wasn’t lost on me that ‘the God of’ was repeated three times, nor that earlier, in Genesis/Bereshith, God as Elohim (the plural of El, “God”) spoke to someone, “Let us make man in our own image” (Genesis 1:26). I was ‘born a Christian, and I was going to die a Christian,’ I guessed. This was already decided, because ‘God is faithful’ (2 Timothy 2:13).

Back to the topic, so I’ve been studying Exodus, and when I came to the Ten Plagues which YHWH inflicted on Egypt to induce Pharaoh to ‘let His people go,’ and read the study notes, I was surprised to find this kind of commentary:

7:17 the water of the Nile… will be changed into blood. There is some reason to believe that the first nine plagues may have been a series of unprecedented intensifications of events that were part of the Egyptian experience, events that in their more usual form did not have anything like the catastrophic effects of the disasters God brought on Egypt… If that was the case, the first plague may have resulted from an unparalleled quantity of red sediment being washed down from Ethiopia during the annual flooding of the Nile in late summer…
Following this train of thought, similar explanations of ‘what may have been the case’ were presented in the notes as each of the Ten Plagues was recounted. I expected that a good commentary on scripture, especially when it’s published in the Bible, would leave alone this kind of speculation. If I were a new Christian, reading this kind of thing might prepare me to regard the Word of God as something to pick apart in the same way, instead of letting the Word pick me apart. In my case, by means of studying the Word and letting it interpret itself to me and mould my thinking for over 30 years of living within the Church enclosure, I am able to ‘pass over’ these glosses and accept them for what they’re worth. Still, they demonstrate ‘what’s out there,’ a culture of speculation and human thinking that is suffocating the Church.
‘Miracles just don’t really happen.’
Today is Evangelismós, the annual commemoration of the Good News, the announcement to a virgin in Israel that YHWH the Holy One, blessed be He, had selected her to be the mother of the Messiah. (Happy name day, Evángelos!)

For us Orthodox Christians, understanding this historical event helps put Mary the Theotókos in right perspective—she is the first Christian, the first to hear the Good News and to receive it, “Let what you have said be done to me” (Luke 1:38 JB). Her cooperation ‘got the ball rolling.’ In the same way, according to Archimandrite Vasileios, by our cooperation with the Good News we also become theotókoi (God-bearers), incarnators of the Word. Anything beyond this becomes speculation. But one thing is for sure, it really happened! It was miracle, pure and simple. Thankfully, the comments in my new study bible were ‘orthodox,’ they did not introduce any speculation. It still leaves me wondering, why is an Old Testament miracle open to naturalistic explanation, and not this?
Why talk about the Ten Plagues and the Annunciation in the same breath?
Are they related somehow?
Well, yes, they are. They are both instances of God’s direct intervention in human history, where He bypasses the zigzag of interlocking events and renews His creation through a rent in the curtain of existence ‘with the lightning flash of His divinity,’ tí astrapí tís theótitos (Resurrectional Apolytikion, 2nd Tone). They are both ‘miracle,’ and they are both liberating. The world system, the kósmos, has a hard time dealing with these. It neither wants nor needs them. It will do anything to explain them away.
But what do you believe?
At this time of the year we have a curious concurrence of the main holy days of two ancient faiths, Judaism and Christianity. For Jews, Pesach, Passover, the feast of freedom, the commemoration of their liberation from slavery and Egypt, the historical event that defines them as God’s people. For Christians, Pascha, Passover, the feast of freedom, the commemoration of their liberation from sin and death, the historical event that defines them as God’s people.
Wait a minute! What’s wrong with these statements? Why do they seem so similar? Is there some mistake, or are we really talking about the same thing?
Didn’t you mean to say ‘Easter’ when you said ‘Pascha, Passover?’
No, not really. There’s only one Living God, the Holy One of Israel, blessed be He, and “He is the One who will justify the circumcised because of their faith and justify the uncircumcised through their faith” (Romans 3:30 JB). The Church was never intended to deviate from Judaism. At this point, I should probably just direct you back to the Word of God, to holy apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, particularly chapters 9, 10 and 11. Why have I written down these thoughts of mine at all?

Because, Israel the old and Israel the new, ‘the time is very close’ (Revelation 1:3). The time is very close for your coming back together again, where ‘there will be one flock and one shepherd’ (John 10:16). Messiah is coming. “The One who guarantees these revelations repeats His promise: I shall indeed be with you soon” (Revelation 22:20 JB).

But what do you believe?

Friday, March 23, 2007

What have you come for?

Let us look to ourselves and be sober, brothers.
Who will give us back this present time if we waste it?
If we actually had to seek these days we would not have found them.

Abba Arsenios was always saying to himself, "Arsenios, what have you come for?"

We are in such a negligent and ruinous condition that we don't know why we have come; we don't know even what we want and, therefore, we make no progress, but we are always distressed.

This comes about because we have no set purpose in our hearts and actually if we were to resolve to fight a little, in a short time we should not find life distressing or laborious.
For if from the beginning a man does violence to himself and struggles with himself a little in a short time he makes progress and afterwards he goes on peacefully, when God seeing that he does violence to himself, brings him help.

We must, then, do ourselves violence. Let us lay down a good foundation, let us meanwhile desire what is good.

—Abba Dorotheos of Gaza

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Lorica of Saint Patrick

Patrick made this hymn: in the time of Loegaire macNeill it was made, and the cause of its composition was for the protection of himself and his monks against the deadly enemies that lay in ambush for the clerics. And it is a lorica of faith for the protection of body and soul against demons and men and vices.

I arise today in vast might,
in vocation of the Trinity,
belief in a Threeness,
confession of Oneness,
towards the Creator.

I arise today
in the might of Christ’s Birth & His Baptism,
in the might of His Crucifixion & Burial,
in the might of His Resurrection & Ascension,
in the might of His Descent to the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today
in the might of the order of Cherubim,
in obedience of angels,
in ministrations of Archangels,
in hope of resurrection for the sake of reward;
in prayers of Patriarchs,
in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles,
in faith of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy virgins,
in deeds of Righteous men.

I arise today
in the might of Heaven,
brightness of Sun,
whiteness of Snow,
splendor of Fire,
speed of Lightning,
swiftness of Wind,
depth of Sea,
stability of Earth,
firmness of Rock.

I arise today
in the Might of God for my piloting,
Power of God for my upholding,
Wisdom of God for my guidance,
Eye of God for my foresight,
Ear of God for my hearing,
Word of God for my utterance,
Hand of God for my guardianship,
Path of God for my precedence,
Shield of God for my protection,
Host of God for my salvation,
Against snares of demons!
Against allurement of vices!
Against solicitations of nature!
Against every person that wishes me ill,
far and near, alone and in a crowd!

I invoke therefore all these forces
against every fierce, merciless force
that may come against my body and my soul:
Against incantations of false prophets!
Against black laws of paganism!
Against false laws of heresy!
Against encompassment of idolatry!
Against spells of seductresses,
tinkers and druids!
Against all knowledge that is forbidden
the human soul!

Christ for my guardianship today
against poison,
against burning,
against drowning,
against wounding,
that there may come to me a multitude of rewards.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ under me,
Christ over me,
Christ to right of me,
Christ to left of me,
Christ in lying down,
Christ in sitting,
Christ in rising up.
Christ in the heart of every person who may think of me,
Christ in the mouth of every person who may speak to me,
Christ in every eye which may look on me,
Christ in every ear which may hear me.

I arise today in vast might,
in vocation of the Trinity,
belief in a Threeness,
confession of Oneness,
meeting in the Creator.

Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is from the Lord,
Salvation is in Christ!
May we always remain in Your Salvation, O Lord!

Click HERE for a PDF pamphlet of this powerful prayer.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Τον σταυρον σου προσκυνουμεν, Δεσποτα

Ton stavrón sou proskinoúmen, Dhéspota, "we venerate your cross, O Master," is the first line of one of the two hymns of this third kyriakí (Sunday) of the "forty days" fast before Pascha. The rest of the hymn, kai tín aghían sou anástasin dhoxazómen, "and we glorify your holy resurrection," reminds us of the inseparability of suffering and resurrection.

Notice, I didn't say "death and resurrection," because Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), has tasted death for all mankind (Hebrews 2:9), He suffered and was buried, on the third day He rose from the dead (Symbol of Nicæa) and so His work is finished, for us. We may have to suffer, but He has taken our place by His death. Now, for us who keep His Word, we will not see death (John 8:51).

I've always considered the procession of the cross on this day visually anti-climactic. We Greeks place a small brass hand cross in the center of what looks like a pizza pan heaped with daffodils, with three white candles around the cross, dwarfing it. One of the priests carries this display aloft above his head, while the priests, deacons and servers process around the inside perimeter of the temple. Meanwhile, we are kneeling and singing, Aghios o Theós… (Holy God…). This time, the procession moved very quickly and arrived at the small table in front of the icon wall before I had time to even take 40 winks on my knees. When they laid the display on the table, the priests performed prostrations in front of it, while we sang the hymn that is the title of this post. These ceremonies are definitely out of the deep past. Somehow, the theme of the service was lost for me in the ceremony, swallowed up in floral irrelevance. Thankfully, Fr. Jerry preached a straight and strong word that cut through the spiritual materialism of the ritual.

The cross.
I used to wear a cross once.
All Orthodox are supposed to wear the cross they received at baptism.
That original cross of mine is packed away among my memorabilia, I hope.
I did wear a cross for at least 20 years of my adult Christian life—the cross of San Damiano, an ancient icon painted by Serbian Orthodox monks that found its way into a small church in central Italy, dating from the days when Italy was still an Orthodox land.
The cross of San Damiano was the icon from which Christ spoke to Francesco of Assisi, "Repair My Church which, as you can see, is lying in ruins."
I stopped wearing my cross because it was worn out, and because at some point, my cross changed from something metallic and detachable, to being a part of me, something others can't see, something I can never take off. When I knew that for sure, that I was bearing my cross, then I didn't have to wear it.

The cross is something you can't really talk about, when it's the reality of your life. All the jabber and blab about the cross, however eloquent, is still just words. To enter into the reality of the cross is a gift of God. When He grants it to you to suffer, and to suffer in ways you never knew existed, then there is no longer an image outside yourself that really stands for anything much. The whole panoply of Orthodox iconography, in fact, dies away into mere imagery, when the cross is your life. I know I wanted to communicate something in this post, but it isn't really possible, I know that now.

But crossbearers know each other.
Their sanctuary is the time and place where in this world they meet for even a moment, their communion is feeding each other with the broken fragments of their lives that Christ has taken to Himself and returned to them, "This is My Body broken for you."

So, the Greek service seems anti-climactic to me? What did I expect? Arthur Blessitt dragging a big wooden cross on wheels from city to city across the world, to drop by at my church this day?
No matter how big the visual cross, whether it's empty, plain wood, or has an icon of Jesus on it, whether the ceremony were slow and awe-inspiring, or the quick, efficient march that we actually experienced today, it would be the same. It can never compare to the reality of being pressed like raw dough with the seal of the true cross, so as to be baked in the oven of tribulations, to come out as pure communion bread. That's our life in Christ, broken but not divided, eaten but not consumed. Christ is in our midst. He is, and ever shall be.

Καλο Πασχα! Kaló Páscha! See you at Pascha!

Land of the Salt-Free God

Well, here it is, the first real Spring day for the year in Portland, and I, sitting on the front patio in an adirondack that has finally dried out after (it seems) weeks of mist and rain, am reading an ‘other book’ cover to cover (it's a short one, 119 pages without the appendix and index), with almost as much joy as I felt taking my daily dose of peppermint-flavoured cod-liver oil as a 6 year old child growing up in Chicago. Yes, I sometimes do read books other than the Bible, but not many.

This is a book I have been meaning to buy and read for maybe a year, One Flew Over the Onion Dome, by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt. The book is about American converts to Orthodox Christianity. While it's an easy read, there's much in it I don't agree with, don't understand, or don't find applicable to Orthodoxy where I live, but this one passage, I think, is worthy, and I'd like to share it. It's from Chapter 12, Land of the Salt-Free God.

The media is constantly bombarding us with a low salt version of God. This god requires nothing of followers and is not offended by any lack of morality. This god preserves nothing—not the faith, nor the faithful. This god is not the God of Revelation. Rather, this salt-free god is the god of human secularism. There is no Hell; Heaven is for everyone. All you have to do to be glorified by the salt-free god is to live and die. This is the god that the Culture of Death serves.

The salt-free god, who stands for nothing holy and heavenly, encourages you to live life as if there were no tomorrow. When, however, tomorrow arrives and you are in pain, this god will painlessly help you to end it all. Thus, having served this god fully all your days, spending your time in a stupor full of all the comforts of modern life, you pass quietly into the salt-free heaven (which is non-judgmental) full of even more joys than you saturated yourself with while on earth. All of this is painless, sacrifice-less, and salt-free. (It can even be seen in some churches where the culture—Greek, Russian, Arab, etc.—is preserved while the Orthodox Faith is sacrificed.)

The seduction of the false god is everywhere, as it has been since the Fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, this is not the God whom we serve. Rather, at the end of Vespers and Matins services, Orthodox Christians sing:

Preserve, O God, the Holy Orthodox Faith,
and all Orthodox Christians, unto ages of ages!

We are singing about salt. We are singing to the Almighty God and King who gives salt and light and all good things to preserve the hearts and minds of His most precious creation: you, me, all mankind. Preserve, preserve, preserve! God, how we need salt in America! Though it stings our wounds, it heals our infirmities. Though it restricts our hedonism, it preserves our godliness. It sweetens our speech and limits our gossip. It gladdens the heart of man and is pleasing to God. Without it we become lifeless, faithless—godless.

Americans are so concerned about physical diets. What about spiritual nutrients?

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
(Matthew 10:28)

No, it is not the salt-free god that we should fear. Rather, with fear of God and faith and love let us draw near to the God of salt. Let us cling to Him Who preserves us as His own. Let us live our lives as the salt of the earth—to the Glory of God—for our salvation and the sake of all mankind.

Fr. Joseph David Huneycutt

Friday, March 9, 2007

A true Christian

A true Christian is made by faith and love toward Christ. Our sins do not in the least hinder our Christianity according to the word of the Savior Himself. He deigned to say, Not the righteous have I come to call, but sinners to salvation; there is more joy in heaven over one who repents than over ninety righteous ones. Likewise, concerning the sinful woman who touched His feet, He deigned to say to the Pharisee, Simon, To one who has love, a great debt is forgiven, but from one who has no love, even a small debt will be demanded. From these judgments a Christian should bring himself to hope and joy, and not in the least accept an inflicted despair. Here one needs the shield of faith.

Sin, to one who loves God, is nothing other than an arrow from the enemy in battle. The true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland. According to the word of the Apostle, our homeland is in heaven and about the warrior he says, our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spirits of wickedness under heaven, (Eph 6:12). The vain desires of this world separate us from our homeland; love of them, and habit, clothes our soul as if in a hideous garment. This is called by the Apostles, “the outward man.”

We, traveling on the journey of this life and calling on God to help us, ought to be divesting ourselves of this hideous garment and clothing ourselves in new desires, in a new love of the age to come, and thereby to receive knowledge of how near or how far we are from our heavenly homeland. But it is not possible to do this quickly; rather one must follow the example of sick people, who, wishing the desired health, do not leave off seeking means to cure themselves.

—Herman of Alaska

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Patron saints of marriage

I realise that calling the 40 martyrs of Sebaste the "patron saints of marriage" might be stretching the case a bit—mainly because the concept of "patron saint" carries a lot of superstitious baggage with it—but these are the saints that are commemorated in the Orthodox marriage service.

Well, their annual commemoration, "feast-day" (I almost typed "feats-day", which in their case would be very appropriate) occurs on March 9th, and as they are my favorites among the martyrs, I couldn't pass up the chance to share their story with the brethren outside the Orthodox koinonía, who may not have heard it.

I published a 12-page booklet about the 40 martyrs, which you can download and read, by clicking here. Read it on line, or print it out. It's formatted to be printed as a 5½ x 8½" booklet, if you have the right kind of printer (one that prints in color, folds and staples).

Kalí sarakostí,

Símandron Publications

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


And as we sat, certain of the bishops besought my master Nonnus [nobody] that they might have some instruction from his lips: and straightway the good bishop began to speak to the weal and health of all that heard him. And as we sat marvelling at the holy learning of him, lo! on a sudden she that was first of the actresses of Antioch passed by: first of the dancers was she, and riding on an ass… bare of head and shoulder and limb, in pomp so splendid, and not so much as a veil upon her head or about her shoulders. They [the bishops] groaned, and in silence turned away their heads as from great and grievous sin. But the most blessed Nonnus did long and most intently regard her: and after she had passed by still he gazed and still his eyes went after her. Then, turning his head, he looked upon the bishops sitting round him. “Did not,” said he, “the sight of her great beauty delight you?” They answered him nothing. And he sank his face upon his knees, and the holy Book that he held in his good hands, and his tears fell down upon his breast, and sighing heavily he said again to the bishops, “Did not the sight of her great beauty delight you?” More…. (Clicking the link will download a PDF booklet containing the whole story, which can be read on line, or downloaded to your PC, or printed.)
Gathered together some grumbling old men
warming the bleachers since Lord knows when
hawkers of halos and stoners of flesh
couldn’t distinguish the stale from the fresh
side-saddle straddling some bloody steps
crumbling old queens in their evening dress
cake-eaters all swathed in delicatesse
who wouldn’t know bread and who couldn’t bless
Though everyone saw her, nobody looked
as she rode among them, her whole body booked
decked out in pearls, the wages of fame
rage of the girls, her stage wasn’t tame
flaunting her curls, PELAGIA her name

Casting his eyes on the trespassing jewel
daring to question, nobody was fool
fearing no vision, he followed her down
letting her beauty delight like the dawn
sinking his face in the Word that he ate
nobody lamented their holiness’ fate
put under conviction their righteous hate
undraped their consciences, silenced debate
Though everyone saw her, nobody looked
as she rode among them, her whole body booked
decked out in pearls, the wages of fame
rage of the girls, her stage wasn’t tame
flaunting her curls, PELAGIA her name

Why did she wander, what led her inside
this room where the mirrors let nobody hide
where nobody speaking caught hold of her ears
kissed by her lovers and pierced by their jeers
Drawn by the bride-groom, suspended in praise
her heart came unraveled with one loving gaze
Where could she room now, her house all ablaze
Run to the wedding-feast and change her ways
Though everyone saw her, nobody looked
as she rode among them, her whole body booked
decked out in pearls, the wages of fame
rage of the girls, her stage wasn’t tame
flaunting her curls, PELAGIA her name

Bare head and shoulders and legs she ran
right into the bakery to look for a man
Pushing aside the grandmothers who swept
she found holy feet, hung on them, and wept
Oh, what a damaging love to display
scandal to snobbery, death to dismay
There nobody loved her but gave her away
in a font to her husband through the spray
Though everyone saw her, nobody looked
as she rode among them, her whole body booked
decked out in pearls, the wages of fame
rage of the girls, her stage wasn’t tame
flaunting her curls, PELAGIA her name

Monday, March 5, 2007

Defying the barking dogs

This is a poster that I created, quoting something I wrote to a 'pastor' who banned my partner in evangelical crime and myself from commenting on his blog. Without realizing it, I wrote the passage in the style of Byzantine liturgical poetry, but I couldn't see that until I expressed it on the poster. The image of 'Christ driving out the money-changers' is by the painter Domínikos Theotokópoulos, a.k.a. 'El Greco'. This poster is for those for whom it is intended. If you want to download a copy, click on the poster and wait for it to enlarge; then, right click and 'Save picture as' to your PC.
Kalí sarakostí, adelphoí mou agapitoí!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

To go or not to go (to confession)

The second Sunday of Sarakostí, called the second triumph of Orthodoxy because it celebrates the victory of Gregory Palamás over the arch-fiend Barlaam of Calabria, who called the monks of Mount Athos "navel gazers." Gregory was rewarded by being made archbishop of Thessaloniki in AD 1347. Barlaam said that the monks' lives of prayer were a waste of time that could never bring them close to God. Palamás defended the monks, asserting that we can best know God through the work of Jesus Christ, and that through intense prayer it is possible to "see the uncreated Light of Mount Tabor." So, chalk another one up for Orthodoxy and the "imperial church." In retrospect, one has to wonder how important all these monastic squabbles were and are for the average followers of Jesus Christ, who don't have to define and defend, who just "follow the Lamb wherever He goes" (Revelation 14:4) because they "know His voice" (John 10:27).

There's something about monasticism that just has to be said. Within Orthodox Christianity we have this wild institution—monasticism—that seems to be at the rudder of the Church, has always provided a corrective when things seemed to go wrong. Like any human construct, it cannot be considered infallible, but must be subject to the same critical evaluation that any institution is, even more so, since it mans the rudder of the Church—we're not just talking about earthly propositions here, but the "ark of salvation."

The modern Orthodox Christian is taught that it is indispensable to have a spiritual father, to confess one's sins to, to get guidance and instructions from, to be obedient to, with an obedience that can (sometimes) subvert reason. At their best, these elder/disciple relationships can, in fact, bring a person closer to God (though they can add nothing to one's salvation). At their worst, these relationships can almost unhinge one's salvation and certainly can cause an unspiritual co-dependence that creates more bondage than it relieves. Now, here's the rub. Though we're taught that we must have a spiritual father and go to confession regularly, few do, relatively speaking; and if they did, there wouldn't be enough time for the priests to hear them all.

Now here's where the Sunday sermon comes into play. Father Paul, the appointed epistle (Hebrews 1:10-2:3) and gospel (Mark 2:1-12) notwithstanding, preached his usual wild take-off, but today it was enlightening. He started by giving us the illustration of people using "temporary fixes" to solve problems that deserve more serious effort—for example, "temporarily" fixing a farm gate with some baling wire. The fix really is temporary, though we forget to fix it right until it breaks again. Father Paul applied this to the Church's handling of confession.

The early Church didn't have the "sacrament" of confession as we know it today. The Church was still a tight group of people working out their salvation together. Sins were confessed among them publicly, and the group forgave the repenting sinner, together, and publicly restored him.

After Constantine, the Church grew too quickly, because it was "in" to be a "Christian." The leaders of the Church set up a temporary fix—they designated the bishops and presbyters to be the "forgivers" in the name of the community, and sinners would confess privately, be absolved, and quietly restored to fellowship.

Unfortunately, rigor mortis set in, or at least a profound but respectable laziness, and the Church found itself unwilling or unable to return to the earlier state of affairs. It was easier to just say, "times have changed" or "the Holy Spirit has evolved our understanding, and it's better this way." But even within Orthodox Christianity, the voice of the real Holy Spirit was still heard and followed by some. Father Paul gave three examples.

Symeon the New Theologian taught that a follower of Christ could confess to any other Christian (not just clergy) and even be forgiven. He was, of course, practically stoned for his teaching by some of his contemporaries, yet the Orthodox Church considers him on a par with holy apostle and evangelist John the Theologian, calling him the New Theologian, that is, the new apostle John.

John of Kronstadt, a Russian priest of modern times, had so many people coming to him for confession, that he had them all just speak their confessions aloud publicly while standing in the church service, and he forgave them all publicly and absolved them—and this was considered by all to be perfectly acceptable as a "sacrament."

Finally, even closer to home, Father Elías Stephanópoulos of Holy Trinity, Portland, Oregon, who pastored this community for 19 years before losing a battle with terminal cancer, used to periodically read the prayers of absolution over the entire congregation. What's implied by this action is that those who had repented of their sins and confessed, if only to one another or even to God alone, received the blessing of forgiveness at the hands of the priest and in the name of the Church.

And I want to add one more witness of my own. Aretí Vlahákis, a lifelong member of Holy Trinity who was an evangelical spirit and whom I knew only in her old age, passed on many things to us "younger" disciples. She also said, that confession to a priest was not the only way to confess your sins. She also said what the Word of God teaches, "confess your sins to one another" (James 5:16). Aretí really knew her Bible. May her memory be eternal.

So, back to where Father Paul left us. After giving us his three examples of how "confession" could be administered, he left it with us, to decide "to go or not to go," though this is not the way he put it. What he said was something that implied that the time has come, at last, to discover what the Lord wants us to do as persons and as a community, to make "forgiveness of sins" a reality, and not keep trying to fix the gates of our souls with mere "baling wire."

Father Paul, if you read this, you spoke a true word today. Let's hope we're listening, all of us.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

God does not want those whom He will save… to be ignoramuses

God does not want those whom He will save, who seek His mercy, to be ignoramuses, unmanly, cowardly, or spiritually untested. It is a matter of divine inheritance stored up for experienced Christians. So He places temptations before us so that our obedience to His commandments may be demonstrated. His illumination is within us; knowledge of His will is taught by the Scriptures; furthermore, our conscience guides us like a compass. All of the above enlighten us in the face of temptations. But when evil prevails over our will, we do not obey His commandments.

We were created with free will, and free will cannot be controlled by others. As such, if we feared God, we would not fall into temptation. If we did not love ourselves more than God, we would not tend towards sin. But His goodness did not leave our falls without a rectifying remedy, whereby we return once again and a victory occurs in spite of our fall.

All who compel themselves to be saved, the Scriptures call righteous, justified by faith. God will not let them fall, for they are struggling properly. He will not let them be tempted beyond their strength when they are making every effort to be patient. But when we are cowardly and lukewarm, when we have a slothful will, this constitutes an occasion for a temptation beyond our strength.

Your grumbling is sinful; it is a result of self-love and unmanliness. Have patience in everything; thank God; blame your lukewarmness, and not God, Who was crucified for you and, consequently, must love you. Since He loves you, how can He let you fall into temptation? Seek forgiveness from Him, and secure yourself with patience.

Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain (Athos)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Holy Cows in the Polder

To start off the month of March in Cost of Discipleship, I want to direct my readers elsewhere, specifically to this article by Marc van der Woude,
entitled Holy Cows in the Polder.
Despite the image and the title to his article, this is not a light-hearted topic. With the courtesy and sensitivity characteristic of our European brothers, he has introduced a bit of humor to the subject, but please give his article your fullest attention. It deserves it! Here's a sample of what he says:

"I have a simple (some might say 'simplistic') insight: if it is true that Jesus called us (the Church) to proclaim and manifest the Kingdom of God in the earth, so that the gates of hell cannot prevail, then from a strategic point of view it is likely that satan assigned his strongest demons (those of religion, money, control, deception, etc.) to the church. All these demonic spirits have to do is what they also do in other religions - inspire human beings to create and maintain religious (church) systems and mindsets that breed unhealthy codependence, keep people occupied with all kinds of side-matters, and therefore render them relatively unfruitful and harmless. Therefore, any true reformation inevitably has to address things that are foundationally wrong in the way the church operates."